In May 1997, a graduation party in San Jose, California, was disrupted by gunfire, and an uninvited guest was shot and injured. Two people identified the shooter as Bobby Herrera, a car mechanic with no criminal record who was the boyfriend of one of the graduates. Two weeks later, Herrera was arrested. Herrera’s trial attorney charged the family $10,000, but he failed to interview witnesses who would have testified that Herrera was not the shooter, and he ignored the fact that Herrera’s primary accuser recanted and claimed that she was pressured to finger Herrera by the gang members who really were involved in the shooting. In April 1998, Herrera’s attorney told him that if he pled guilty, he would get probation, but if he went to trial, he would risk 25 years in prison and incur thousands of dollars in legal fees. Herrera did plead guilty and was sentenced to 5 years in prison instead of probation.
After Herrera was convicted, his family hired two new attorneys, but they did little to help. Finally, the family hired a fourth attorney who filed a petition for habeas corpus. The petition was dismissed without a hearing by the California Sixth District Court of Appeal, but on appeal the California Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeal to seek a response from the state and schedule a hearing. Instead of pursuing the case, the district attorney’s office dismissed the charges, and Herrera was released in 2000, after spending 11 months in prison.
An investigation by the San Jose Mercury News in 2006 revealed the Herrera’s trial attorney had been suspended four times from practicing law, and that his license was suspended at the time he represented Herrera. He was permanently disbarred in 2003.
- Stephanie Denzel